19 August 2012
Nationwide: Villeneuve denied home win
Fellows, Allgaier and Busch all pitted soon after just before second place when a third yellow came out, caused for a second time by Dexter Stacy who this time had managed to hit the wall which required an unusually lengthy caution period. In fact most of the cautions at Montreal were oddly protracted on Saturday, which during the middle part of the race perfectly suited those drivers on two-stop strategies desperately trying to stretch their fuel all the way to the finish.
The restart finally came on lap 38, and all eyes were on Patrick and Villeneuve on the front row to see whether their would be any continuation of their feud that had started when Villeneuve punted Patrick off the track near the end of the Nationwide race at Road America in June, the last time the two drivers had competed head-to-head in the series. But for now at least it seemed that Villeneuve had learned from the torrent of criticism he'd received for that incident, and he politely slipped into second place as Danica once again pulled off a picture-perfect restart around the outside of turn 1.
However there was a nasty surprise awaiting Patrick a few corners later: a spectator had thrown a sports shoe over the fencing, and it had landed right on the racing line. Patrick, as race leader, was first to encounter it and the #7 ran right over it. At first it seemed the incident had done no harm, but within minutes Patrick was complaining that the steering on the car was shot and in-car pictures showed her having to saw away at the wheel even doing the straights.
Whether it was the shoe that had caused the problem or a pre-existing condition with the left rear axle from hitting the curbing too hard in earlier practice and qualifying session, something was clearly badly wrong as TV pictures captured a crucial bracket cropped off the underside of the car. Patrick tried to tough it out but finally had to come into the garage for investigation and repairs that put her six laps down and out of contention, despite having put in 20 laps in the lead and looking one of the two favourites for the win along with arch nemesis Villeneuve.
"I just can't believe the amount of bad luck we've had," signed Patrick in pit road. "How disappointing is it? We're bound to catch some good luck some time."
A debris caution on lap 46 was again slightly too early for comfort for drivers hoping to make it home from here without any further pit stops, but they were encouraged by how long it was taking to clear up after each caution and so Villeneuve committed to exactly that strategy and came in for his final visit to pit road of the day. That left Elliott Sadler in charge of the race for the restart alongside Andrew Ranger, with Justin Allgaier, Mike Wallace and Kyle Kelley close behind.
Sadler was only in charge for four laps before he followed his strict pit stop strategy and came in under green for his own final visit to pit road along with Allgaier. That put Villeneuve right back in front again, with Kyle Busch once more popping into second place briefly before his own off-sync final pit stop on lap 58 just a lap before the fifth caution of the day for Jason Bowles spinning into a deep gravel trap.
Even those who were frankly on the wrong side of the fuel conservation odds weren't inclined to pit now and instead let their stake ride on their current gambit. They were rewarded by another interminably long period behind the safety car that allowed Villeneuve to start cutting off the engine and coast down the straights to get the maximum mileage he possibly could out of the #22.
Finally on lap 63, Villeneuve and Hornish Jr. led the field to the green flag: but it was third-placed man Alex Tagliani who had the jump on them both, flying past Villeneuve for the lead while further back Hornish ended up on the receiving end of a wheel-hopping Michael McDowell and barged off the track with rear-end bodywork damage. Hornish wasted no time in rejoining the track but he'd lost multiple positions in the process and was now down in 23rd place.
Amazingly there was no caution, nor was there for each of the next three laps that saw some incident or other: on lap 64 it was Danica Patrick's wounded car getting topped into a spin by Kyle Kelley that caught up first Mike Wallace and then the hapless Hornish in a slow-speed multicar pileup. Then on lap 65 Ron Fellows went for a spin after making contact with Kyle Busch: Busch had seen an opening down the inside of a long left-hander and gone for it, and Fellows hadn't been expecting it and ended up turning in on the #54 and getting the worst of the deal. In all cases, the cars involved were able to regroup and continue.
Sam Hornish Jr.
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